Racist Policing Persists Despite Cannabis Legalization

A new report came out from the decriminalization advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). It paints a mostly glowing picture of legal weed in the United States. This includes economic booms, reductions in opioid use, and decreases in teen consumption. In addition, Coloradans and millions more experience unprecedented cannabis freedoms. Nevertheless, the report once again highlights America’s racist police practices. It reports that black and brown residents in legal weed states are still subject to cannabis-related arrests due to racist policing. Also, this paints a picture of how significantly higher the rate is than their white peers.

New Report on Racist Policing

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f the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. People of color are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. via ACLU

According to the DPA report, “From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization,” total cannabis arrests in legal weed states have declined sharply since legalization. Colorado experienced an 88% drop between 2012 and 2015 and Oregon decreased pot stops by 96% from 2013 to 2016.

So, at first glance, those statistics seem to indicate a radical shift in police procedure. Furthermore, it suggests that cops in legal weed states have listened to voters and lawmakers and moved onto more significant work. However, look a little deeper and you will see the real picture. While a dip in the number of arrests is encouraging, the report’s demographic data shows that America’s legacy of racist policing has indeed continued through cannabis legalization.

“Even after legalization, racial disparities in the enforcement of the remaining marijuana-related offenses have persisted,” the DPA report remarks.

“Racial profiling needlessly entangles communities of color, youth, and young adults, in the criminal justice system. The targeted enforcement of minor marijuana-related activities (as well as other petty offenses) ensnares hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system. While breeding mistrust of the police in these targeted communities, thereby reducing public safety.”

A deeper look into racism

racial policing
The Georgia NAACP said it was launching an investigation into the arrests. The organization has backed a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the arrested partygoers, described as the “Cartersville 70.” via The Atlanta Voice

In a deep dive into the data behind the DPA study, Color Lines reporter Alfonso Serrano highlighted a 2016 Colorado Department of Public Safety report. It that shows cannabis-related arrests are decreasing by more than 10% for white teenagers. On the other hand, similar arrests increased by 50% for black teens.

As adult-use and medical legalization laws continue, data will continue to emerge about the changing tone of cannabis policing. In the meantime, a number of individual cases show just how much work is still left to be done. It is time for reform and justice to coincide.

A writer took a look at the consistent policing threats against black women and cannabis legalization. Huffington Post writer Ja’han Jones comments on the recent arrest of more than 60 mostly black and brown youth over one bag of weed at a house party in Cartersville, Georgia. Jones detailed the inhumane treatment of dozens of young people of color. Just for even being in the presence of a bag of weed, nevermind actually smoking it. Nija Guider, who had been arrested, spoke up about her experiences to Huffington Post.

“You sit up there and look at a man who’s doing his job, while you can literally feel your life turning into shambles. You can feel it.”

It’s an amazing experience to be able to watch cannabis transition from outlawed weed to the legal cash crop. However, without also seeking justice for the people who were most seriously harmed by prohibition, legalization may never reach its full potential.

“Reckoning with cannabis use in America is not as simple as legalizing it. Not when racial biases within us. Deep as the marrow. Inflect our every experience with it, in industry, incarceration and elsewhere.”